Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Joseph Kallinger, the Enigmatic Cobbler

The Mind of a Demented Cobbler

As Kallinger was taken from the interrogation room, Downs writes, he happened to see his son sitting in another area waiting to be processed. 

"If you tell them anything," he said to his son, "I'll kill you."

Police and social workers tried to get the boy to explain why his record of school absences coincided with the dates of each crime, but he refused to talk.

Mrs. Kallinger went public with her theory, affirmed by Kallinger's lawyer, Malcolm Berkowitz, that the police had a vested interest in putting Kallinger in prison.   He'd once brought a lawsuit against them and won.  They were holding a grudge.  The lawyer suggested that the shirt found in Leonia had been planted.  Fingerprints found at the scene were "flimsy" evidence.  Mrs. Kallinger insisted that the jewelry the police had taken from her home was her own costume jewelry.

Yet as the investigation continued through the spring and over the summer, it was clear that Kallinger was a distrustful paranoid man with strange habits.   He did not want his wife or children having any friends and he had hostile relations with many people on his block.  It was he and he alone who talked with the children about sexual matters, and he seemed strict and authoritarian—much like his adoptive parents, who had been Austrian and who had adopted him specifically to work in their shoe repair business.  Once Joe was in jail, Mrs. Kallinger seemed greatly relieved and did not want to have him back in her home.  For the first time in a long time, she told a social worker, she was free.

In the meantime, Kallinger was preparing his defense.   He began to talk about how God had a mission for him: he was to assist people whose brains had been adversely affected by shoes that were poorly constructed.  He said that the devil in various guises had pursued him for over one thousand years.     

In August, Kallinger was given a psychiatric examination for two hours to determine if he was competent to stand trial.   Dr. John Hume concluded that Kallinger suffered from antisocial personality disorder, a far cry from a real mental disorder, and that he was faking insanity.  He seemed to feign trouble with his memory and he mentioned having visitations from God.  His intellectual limitations--having dropped out of school in the eighth or ninth grade---were obvious, but he talked coherently and appeared to understand exactly what he was asked.  Organically, he appeared to be normal.  Neurological tests came up with no glaring results.  The psychiatrist also questioned another inmate, who told him that Kallinger had killed the nurse because she refused to provide oral sex.  He also had mentioned that his robberies were paying for his defense and that he was going to fake insanity.  (However, Hume also pointed out that this report was suspect, given the other convict's reputation for trying to get his time reduced by providing information.)

Hume concluded that at the very least, Kallinger knew right from wrong and was competent to stand trial.


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